August 6, 2009

Dispatches from a Civil War

Every once in a while – with less and less frequency, I’m sure – a little glimmer of truth blinks through the filters of the mainstream media.

 The first instance I have in mind is Bob Herbert’s courageous op-ed column in the August 1 New York Times on the “Gates Affair” and its aftermath, in which Herbert doesn’t equivocate about the real reason for Gates’s arrest:  “Angry while black.”  Here are a few further quotes:

The president of the United States has suggested that we use this flare-up as a “teachable moment,” but so far exactly the wrong lessons are being drawn from it — especially for black people. The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.

I have nothing but contempt for that message.


It was the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, who did something wrong in this instance. He arrested a man who had already demonstrated to the officer’s satisfaction that he was in his own home and had been minding his own business, bothering no one. Sergeant Crowley arrested Professor Gates and had him paraded off to jail for no good reason, and that brings us to the most important lesson to be drawn from this case. Black people are constantly being stopped, searched, harassed, publicly humiliated, assaulted, arrested and sometimes killed by police officers in this country for no good reason.


Black people need to roar out their anger at such treatment, lift up their voices and demand change. Anyone counseling a less militant approach is counseling self-defeat. As of mid-2008, there were 4,777 black men imprisoned in America for every 100,000 black men in the population. By comparison, there were only 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white men.


Most whites do not want to hear about racial problems, and President Obama would rather walk through fire than spend his time dealing with them. We’re never going to have a serious national conversation about race. So that leaves it up to ordinary black Americans to rant and to rave, to demonstrate and to lobby, to march and confront and to sue and generally do whatever is necessary to stop a continuing and deeply racist criminal justice outrage.

While I’m on this topic I’ll also mention Ishmael Reed’s excellent critique of Gates as a representative of the black bourgeoisie from CounterPunch, “Post-Race Scholar Yells Racism.”

UPDATE:  "Let's All Have a Beer," Reed's August 6 follow-up to his previous CounterPunch article, is also essential reading on the issues around the Gates arrest.

My second instance of unlikely truth-telling in the mainstream media comes from a piece in the August edition of Esquire, “The Last Abortion Doctor,” by John H. Richardson.  The article is a profile of Warren Hern, reputedly the last doctor in the United States – after the assassination of George Tiller – to admit, in public at least, that he performs “late-term” abortions.  It’s Hern that does the truth-telling in this case:

People don't get it, [Hern] says. After eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 assaults, and four kidnappings, people are still in denial. They say, Well, this was just some wingnut guy who just decided to go blow up somebody. Wrong. This was a cold-blooded, brutal, political assassination that is the logical consequence of thirty-five years of hate speech and incitement to violence by people from the highest levels of American society, including but in no way limited to George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Reagan may not have been a fascist, but he was a tool of the fascists. George W. Bush was most certainly a tool of the fascists. They use this issue to get power. They seem civilized but underneath you have this seething mass of angry, rabid anger and hatred of freedom that is really frightening, and they support people like the guy who shot George — they're all pretending to be upset, issuing statements about how much they deplore violence, but it's just bullshit. This is exactly what they wanted to happen.

He goes on about Bill O'Reilly for a while. Over the course of twenty-nine separate shows, O'Reilly accused "Tiller the Baby Killer" of performing a late abortion for any reason at all, even so a girl could attend a rock concert — a charge that is blatantly untrue. O'Reilly is a disgrace to American society, he says.

But O'Reilly says he's just exercising his right to engage in vigorous debate, you point out.

He's full of shit. This is not a debate, it's a civil war. And the other people are using bullets and bombs. I think O'Reilly is a fascist, and he would fit right in in Nazi Germany as far as I'm concerned.

Hern is right, there is a civil war going on.  But so far only one side is fighting it.  Which leads me to my conclusion, a question:

What Would John Brown Do?


Richard said...

The eagerness of white Americans to submit to the logic of a police state is another sad take-home message of the "Gates Affair".

Edmond Caldwell said...

You said it, comrade.

Steven Augustine said...

As someone pointed out somewhere else: it's an ugly irony that so many liberal American fellows who were egging on dissident Iranians just prior to HLG's own run-in with injustice did an about-face when it came to injustice in their own Fatherland and called HLG "dumb" for resisting. Go figure.